Coal Versus Solar Power, Which is better for the Environment, You, and Your Pocketbook

Coal Versus Solar Power


Where do you hide 130 million tons/year of coal ash created from U.S. power generation that is laden with arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, cadmium?

A: A public golf course
B: Carpeting for schools
C: Fertilizer for food production
D: All of the above

Unregulated by the EPA, coal ash from U.S. electric power plants can be tucked away or hidden just about anywhere a state allows.  The recent 60 Minutes story: 130 Million Tons of Waste was an eye opener about a dirty secret that saves us $12-$13 Billion per year in hazardous disposal fees.  The 2006 U.S. solar market was $15 Billion.

The release of 1 Billion gallons of coal ash muck from a slurry pond in Kingston, TN December 22, 2008 represents 1 of 1,300 such hazards across the United States.

Is there a coal ash site in your backyard?

coal ash disposal

The Department of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers forbid our politicians from discussing the locations of hazardous coal ash sites. Coal ash - a byproduct of burning coal - is full of highly toxic chemicals that can cause birth defects, cancer and other health problems. The toxins can also infiltrate water supplies and destroy fish, bird and other animal populations around the dumps. Some studies have found coal ash to be more radioactive than nuclear waste.

"Every time a new study is done on what is getting into rivers and streams around these facilities, the case for regulation gets stronger," Eric Schaeffer, a former EPA official who heads the Environmental Integrity Project said. "I think EPA's announcement on regulating coal ash will come in December 2009, and I think they've got to do something significant in this area."

The EPA sent a survey to hundreds of coal power plants requesting data on their dump sites. However, many power companies do not think the public has a right to know and refused disclosure as a 'trade secret.'  Typically, the EPA doesn't challenge such claims, allowing businesses to hide information that might not actually contain trade secrets.

Alabama Power, Duke Energy, First Energy Generation, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, Mississippi Power Company, and Progress Energy Carolinas all made claims of "confidential business information.

It is understandable why utilities would seek to hide information because it contradicts the whole mythology around "clean coal," which is just one effort the coal industry is using to derail climate change legislation and the carbon tax.

Why solar now?  Personal integrity.  Let's be fair and consider the cradle to grave costs associated with our energy sources. 

Considering the entire solar PV market in 2006 was $15 Billion, don't hold your breath that congress will declare coal ash a hazardous material in December 2009.  $13 Billion is the projected costs to properly dispose of coal ash each year in the U.S. if it is declared a hazardous material by the federal government.  As California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says, even if things are bad and could be improved, society resists change.


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